Oct 14, 2008

Motorcycles as Transportation?

Last month, Motorcyclist named the Kawasaki Versys the "Motorcycle of the Year." Many Versys owners agreed, but several readers flamed the rag for choosing something so "practical." One reader stated that case well, "I can only conclude that the magazine's staff has completely lost touch with the core readership to whom riding is a passion, not just a way to save fuel or commute cheaply."

I've been hammered a few dozen times, myself, for considering my motorcycles "transportation" and not toys. Personally, I don't consider riding a few times a year in poser parades or polishing a turd 10x as many hours as are spent riding the bike to be "passion," but my mileage always seems to vary from what many folks claim. I don't know what a MOTY would be, but I like the Versys a lot and would consider it a valid option to my V-Strom. I think pretty much every bike that can't be used for racing or commuting is a pointless exercise in wasted engineering skills. "Passion" is an emotion I distrust, since it burns out so quickly and leads most of us to stupid choices. However, I'd put my love of motorcycling as a transportation choice against most folks'. For example, there is not chance that I'd be willing to take a 7,000 mile trip to Nova Scotia in a cage in August, but I planned all year to do it on my V-Strom.

So, what I'd like to hear is your opinion of not the Versys but the criteria for a MOTY. Please, if you would do me the favor, post your response to this website (http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) rather than responding to the email (if you are on the GWAG mailist). For some reason, Google's mail often ends up in my spam filter folder and I can't figure out why.


  1. Tom wrote: "I think pretty much every bike that can't be used for racing or commuting is a pointless exercise in wasted engineering skills"

    I was trying to think of a bike that you couldn't use for commuting, but you can use sport bikes, choppers, cruisers, dual sports and sport touring bikes. I suppose dirt bikes that are just for trail riding might not qualify as commuters or racers.

    I think the Versys is a nice bike, I'd like to try one. This type of bike has been very popular in Europe for years: Africa Twin, Trans Alp, Varadero, Tenere. I like the upright riding position, without cramped knees, and yet plenty of cornering clearance.

    So, Tom, what can't you use for commuting?


  2. I am not sure I can necessarily agree with them for choosing something so "practical". It's hard to talk about MOTY wihtout talking about this choice... so I will meander back and forth a bit here. So, forgive me. Or don't.

    The looks.. the aesthetics of the Versys, like the V-Strom... is an acquired taste to say the least. This should be a criteria. If practicality is a *primary* criteria for choosing a machine of the year, I certainly can not see how they would choose that bike or the v-strom! Infinitely more practical is actually something along the lines of one of the larger scooters like the Vespa 250 series of machines. It certainly is more versatile and practical in many many ways and will likely outlast the Versys as well, reliability / durability wise. Now.. I don't mean to start a Scooters vs. Motorcycles debate here... they each have their place for many reasons. Would I go around the world on a Versys, sure. Would I do it on a Vespa 250... absolutely. Two different experiences.

    The reason I make this point is that if you are choosing a motorcycle for Motorcycle of The Year, you need to consider the *experience* on the machine as much as the visual & mechanical design, or simply the transportation aspects of the equation.

    My *opinion* after having a v-strom for a while and only getting a quick ride on a Versys is that they both are sub-standard motorcycles. Why? One word... compromise. Rather than designing the machines for a specific purpose, they attempt to make it versatile enough to do everything with some competence. In my opinion as a former designer turned motorcycle restorer, (I also avg. 30k mi a year on a motorcycle... up to 70k a couple years and have lived most my life w/o a car)... this is the absolute recipe for failure. I would much rather have 3 specific machines than 1 that tries to do it all and fails. When you attempt to create something like the v-stom, and are constrained with market economics... have to hit a certain price off the showroom floor... there is no way to succeed the way you would hope. For example, the v-strom is plagued by poor FI mapping, weight, defective parts, sub-standard suspension, poor aerodynamics, etc etc. The Versys is a bit more successful at a quality product, admittedly... but still, it's like buying a KLR. You need to invest a lot of time and money to make it what it should have been in the first place. In this respect, BMW has figured out the right way to come to market with dual-sport machines, as has KTM, in fact. However, look at the prices. And... I'm sorry... but you mostly get what you pay for with motorcycles. Period.

    Every time there is this debate, you tend to go to the extreme with your opinion on things... quickly eschewing anything not "practical". I'm sorry, I respect you and your opinion, but I find this a little absurd. Motorcycles *should* inspire. "Inspire" does not mean "passion" or other words that apparently make you all ickey inside. However, they should drive you to have a certain type of experience. Whether it's a Ducati or a Harley.. a KTM or a Vincent... they are all distinct types of machines that inspire or drive you to ride them a certain way, in certain places... and sometimes with certain people. All this is good. There should be that sort of variety! Virtually no other form of transport throughout history has ever provided this to the common man. They deliver it, for the most part, at a price anyone of reasonable means can afford to own and operate.

    I think your 'racing or commuting' extreme smacks of the same mentality as fundamentalism. It's a kind of extremism that makes me very uncomfortable. We've talked about this, and I know you are NOT this way.. but you DO write this way. And I fully enjoy it!

    Basically... a motorcycles form and function can not be divorced from one another. You can;t be so extreme and polarized when choosing a "best" machine or Motorcycle of The Year. I think magazines are forced to consider the market far too much when they decide these things... cause right now, the bulk of the non-harley market wants something cheap, middle of the road and versatile. I however, do not. I want something that is exceptional at being a motorcycle in only the way a motorcycle can be. The combination of form and function that ignites something in me as a RIDER first and foremost. This does not mean that it can't be beautiful as well. Many, in fact, most beautiful motorcycles excel at function as well as form.

    The KTM rc8, The KTM Super Duke, The Ducati 1098s, The MV Agusta.... The BMW HP2... and even a Suzuki GSX-R1k (yet... another one) alllllll excel in ways that the Kawasaki absolutely does not. I find their choice absolutely ridiculous considering the rest of the market and the cornerstone developments that have been made the last year or two in motorcycles. Hell... I might even select a Harley over the Versys for MOTY!

    How's THAT for an extreme opinion?!?!?

  3. Good point. I should have wrote "I think pretty much every bike that won't be used . . ."

    You are right. Everything with wheels can be used for commuting, but some bikes are either so fragile, so ungainly, or so expensive that, practically, they won't be used (by a particular owner) for anything other than adornment; mostly garage adornment.

    It's possible to use an ultralite plane as daily transportation, but I have never known anyone to do so and I've known a few ultralite pilots.

    It's possible to commute on an Ultra Glide but everyone I have known who owns one thinks it is too damn hard to get the freaking thing out of the garage, so commuting is out of the question. You could commute on a $45k Bimota DB5, but at 350 pounds you better have a secured parking space or your insurance company may question your intelligence. You could race the Bimota, but most owners probably won't because it would "spoil" the collector value.

  4. Hey Stephen,

    Pretty radical. However, I think every aspect of appreciating a motorcycle is "an acquired taste." I've never acquired a taste for old street bikes, cruisers, or horse-drawn carriages, but I think the Versys is a cool looking bike and did from the moment I saw one at the CW Show.

    I'm probably unable to see the "practicality" of a scooter, since they are IMO unstable and practically useless off-pavement. I wouldn't consider going around the world on a Vespa, there is a lot of dirt out there and the damn things are insanely uncomfortable beyond a few dozen miles. The economy is good, but that's not all there is to "practicality."

    Engineering is a synonym for "compromise." Everything you do in a design compromises something: performance in a particular area, reliability, manufacturability, sales/price, durability, appearance, and so on. I've never seen a design that didn't give up something for something else. The design that gets the biggest bang for the dollar spent has to get some credit for engineering excellence. Spending the most money on parts is not an engineering skill, that's a luxury.

    Your problem with the V-Strom is the version you picked. Like the SV1000, the liter V-Strom has been plagued with performance complaints since the day it came out. I went for the 650 for a variety of reasons, but one was that I have yet to meet a liter owner who was happy with the bike.

    I think my complaint with terms like "passion" and "love" and "inspire" (when applied to a machine) is that the whole concept seems to me to be irrational. I've met a lot of people who claim to be "inspired" by their toys, but I don't see anything from their behavior that appears to be inspired. They don't ride more than me. They don't have bigger grins on their faces when they go places on their bikes. They don't write, play music, create art, or fall in love with another human because of their motorcycle/car/guitar/shiny object.

    Now, I want to hear what kind of inspiration or passion you can get from a motorcycle. Since we've come this direction, maybe that's what I don't see.

  5. Tom said: "It's possible to commute on an Ultra Glide but everyone I have known who owns one thinks it is too damn hard to get the freaking thing out of the garage, so commuting is out of the question. "

    The most common motorcycles parked here at work (beside my Kawasaki) are big Harley baggers with windshields. These guys commute with them almost daily, almost as often as I do (well, not quite as often, and not quite as late in the season).


  6. Cool. That's outside of my experience, but I'm glad someone is actually riding those big bikes.


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